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Captured Fugitive Vows New Escape : Killer Held in Massachusetts Says He’ll Fight Return to County

Times Staff Writer

After only five days back behind bars, convicted killer Ivan Von Staich vowed Thursday from a jail cell here to escape again rather than be returned to Orange County and face a long prison sentence.

Staich, 29, who escaped Jan. 26 from Orange County Jail, said he will try at his first opportunity to escape again because he fears being beaten by Orange County sheriff’s deputies and because he thinks that his sentence will be unjustly long.

“I’m going to do anything I can to keep from going back to that jail,” said Staich, who is fighting extradition attempts.

Despite claiming to fear for his life in the Orange County Jail, Staich conceded Thursday that he was involved in only one “scuffle” with a deputy sheriff during the more than two years he spent in the jail, and to his knowledge no formal complaint was filed or action taken on his behalf.

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(Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesmen have declined to comment on his allegation.)

It was a matter of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” that led to his arrest here Saturday, Staich said, leaning against the bars of his maximum security cell in the 98-year-old Hampden County House of Corrections.

“A day late and a dollar short,” he said, shaking his head. “Almost.”

At the time of his escape, Staich, of Lake Elsinore, was awaiting sentencing of up to 37 years for the attempted murder of his former girlfriend, Cynthia Topper, and the murder of her husband, Richard Topper.

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According to trial testimony, Staich kicked in the door of Topper’s Santa Ana home, beat Robert Topper with a claw hammer and shot him three times. Staich beat the woman so severely with the hammer that she underwent brain surgery twice.

Staich said Thursday that he went to the Topper house only to speak to his former girlfriend, but that her husband pulled a gun. Staich said he was wounded by Robert Topper before taking the gun from him and firing it himself.

After Staich’s escape, Southern California authorities provided protective surveillance for Cynthia Topper’s family.

But Staich said Thursday that revenge was “never what I wanted.”

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He said he ended up in Springfield, Mass., because “it’s 3,000 miles away from the Orange County Jail,” and he did not expect authorities to look for him that far away.

Staich and Robert Joseph Clark, 23, of Palm Springs, who was awaiting trial for murder, escaped from the rooftop recreation area of the Orange County Jail. They overpowered a lone, unarmed deputy and then used electrical cords to rappel down the side of the four-story building.

Clark was captured five days later sitting by the pool at the Sixpence Inn, a Tustin motel about three miles from the jail.

Staich remained at large until Saturday, when two Springfield police officers spotted him loitering in the doorway of a senior citizens’ apartment complex.

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Booked on Misdemeanor

After questioning him, the officers were leading Staich to their patrol car when the 6-foot-2, 200-pound fugitive attempted yet another escape by shoving one of the policemen and running, authorities said.

But this time Staich was caught about two blocks away and booked on suspicion of assault on a police officer, a misdemeanor.

A month after his daylight escape from Orange County Jail and after a 3,000-mile, cross-country flight to avoid capture, Staich said he had intended to leave Springfield a day or two before he was arrested.

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Staich said he thought that he might have talked the officer out of arresting him but that he got nervous and ran when he thought that the policeman had moved his hand toward his holstered revolver.

But even in custody, Staich thought that he could be released before officials learned his true identity, he said.

Almost Made Bail

Staich joked Thursday about how after his arrest last week, he had come within hours of making bail before the Massachusetts authorities learned of his true identity.

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For three days, Hampden County jailers were unaware of Staich’s true name, and his bail was set at $100 on the misdemeanor arrest.

“It would have worked if I had more money on me,” said Staich, who was unable to post the $100 bail.

As it was, $140 arrived for Staich by wire Tuesday from someone in Denver, Colo., only hours after authorities had tentatively identified Staich.

Authorities and Staich have declined to identify who sent the money.

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A couple of weeks earlier, Staich said, he had eluded detection when he and three other men were stopped for questioning in a state “near California” by a police officer who wondered why they were on the streets so late.

Gave Officers Alias

Staich said he gave the officer the alias of “Mark Statch,” and that after checking records for that name, the policeman let him go.

Since he had success with that name once, Staich said he gave the same alias to police in Springfield. Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesmen said that the repeat use of the name may have ultimately helped identify him.

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Staich said the first time he used the alias, the officer may have kept the name and only later realized whom he had stopped.

Massachusetts authorities tentatively identified Staich Tuesday by a routine check of the alias and of his fingerprints with the National Crime Information Center’s computers.

Staich said he was befriended by more than a dozen people, including several women, who took him in and provided him money and clothes, unaware that he was a fugitive.

Women Helped Him

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“I met a couple of young ladies in different states that were real friendly to me,” he said. “I would have liked to stay.” But he said he moved on to stay ahead of police.

Staich said he worked at odd jobs that paid cash and required no Social Security numbers, such as scraping ice and snow off sidewalks and porches. Staich also said he had money “stashed on the streets,” enabling him to buy a used car and go for long periods without working. He insisted, however, that no one outside the jail helped in the escape.

Staich declined to identify those who had befriended him since his escape. He also refused to name the cities through which he traveled.

“If I get another chance to get away . . . I’ll go again,” Staich said. “Maybe I’ll take the same route, maybe I’ll take another route.”

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